Tarzan Thursday – Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)

As I mentioned in the last post, this film begins a new chapter in the trajectory of this franchise while at MGM. There was a trilogy-style approach to consolidating Jane and Tarzan’s relationship, and now, the next step would be to throw a child into the mix. While it can be said to mirror Tarzan’s beginnings (Beginnings ignored by the MGM series, and perhaps adding allure, legend and mystique to the character), the introduction of Boy is also a fairly Code-friendly affair. He is found, and not conceived, even though he’s scarcely more than a newborn.

The appeal of the series to younger audiences was likely already clinched: there was a foreign land, action, adventure, animals, and now a reflection of their age group on screen; a presence through which the viewer can live vicariously. What this second phase of films may not have in originality and quality it tries to make up for in this added layer of identification.

With a younger character/cast member being added to the mix the production schedule ramped up, this also likely has much to do with MGM trying to get all they could out of the franchise (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) but I’m sure that having this added element contributed. The possibility of recasting at some point is dangerous, it hung like a pall over the Harry Potter series during renegotiations and production slow-downs, and a maximization of efforts are needed. Not that there appears to be as much of a master plan to the films to follow, but still the desire for more frequent output existed.

While the film adds a new element, and creates a new dynamic, the narrative framework of the film is not that unlike that in the first three. Eventually, relations of Boy’s show up. There is an inheritance plot, there is one altruistic relative who wants what’s best for him and two who are conniving.

The climactic sequences are also not that unlike prior installments: the conniving of the ‘civilized’ white folks is interfered with by native who imperil all and Tarzan comes to the rescue.

The welcome additions to the lore in this version are in the more minute details. As a whole, the bones of this story stay the same. In a certain way, the troubles that are faced by these latter installments is finding balance when a necessary new element/character is introduced. Many of the old hat time-killers (swimming, stock footage of animals, inconsequential bits of comedy by Cheetah, etc.) are still overly-present and divide time with even more principal players. Again, my having previously skipped parts and missed some may lead to finding some surprises (one of the most glaring missing titles is coming up). It just seems, in general terms, during the elongation of the series, where more creativity was needed to rise up to story challenges, what occurred instead was uninspired formula and at times apathy.

Advertisements

What Should You Want a Franchise to Do Next?

I cannot say I’m a die hard Die Hard fan, not just because that’s a pun, but also because it’s true. However, what the chatter about the latest Die Hard did reveal to me is that even in disappointment, which is the fairly universal reaction to the latest installment, there are different grades of frustration. Furthermore, differing thoughts on what the future of the franchise should be by those who hold it dear.

Essentially, what struck me as most interesting to write about was examining the logic of differing plans through the spectrum of my feelings on other series’.

One of the first I heard can be succinctly described as “Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.” In other words, “Why end the series on a sour note?” However, if I were to apply that to a series I truly liked there would need to be something that I wanted to see salvaged. Because on the surface it can seem a contrarian statement to say “Man, that wasn’t very good, they’ve got to make another one.” However, I do get the sentiment. I think a series in my mind that has gone off course but can still be righted is say the Final Destination films. So far as Die Hard goes, I don’t think a third generation is an eventual solution or becoming further spy-oriented. Again, not a die hard, so I won’t over-speculate.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

As opposed to continuing and just fixing the story, another reaction that’s possible it to want to go back to square one. I doubt this would be satisfactory to Die Hard fans. I know it’s a course of action I would accept as a fan of the Hellraiser concept and works wherein Barker was involved, that series is so far from healthy, restarting is the only way to come close to his intention for the character. Especially when the last film prompted Barker to respond that this particular plot it didn’t even come from his a-hole much less his mind, one wonders how worried about being true-to-form Dimension really are. In Die Hard terms, I find it hard to believe an attempt that doesn’t involve Bruce Willis would be made any time soon. The reboot option may only come when he’s really, really old and plays a humorous cameo wherein my generation and those above can tell the youngins that he made the first one and it was better.

So righting the ship and a reboot are options, but not viable ones in this series. The other two options that are theoretically possible would be a prequel, which also doesn’t makes sense here, and just ending it. These two seem to be the two hardest options to accept when your the fan of a franchise. Usually my litmus test about a prequel, or a tale in the same realm being told, is involvement of the originator of the series, like if Rowling pursued other wizarding stories or pursued a new strand of tales with her triad.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001, Warner Bros.)

Another determining factor is: is there room for narrative growth? Lucas had plans for more Star Wars, so now that the decision about proceeding on a new installment belongs to someone else; it’s happening and that’s fine by me. The reported stand-alones are too. The differentiation between the Star Wars and Harry Potter properties is one of time and ownership. So far as we know, lest we get new indications otherwise, Rowling’s world-building is complete. Lucas’ plan was always longer.

Few franchises have a grand design, and that prompts many follow-ups to come about due to responding to questions such as “Well, why not?” or “Well, what now?” Those with a grand design seem to have more staying power, and those who are consistently trying to re-invent the wheel are gambling more.

In the end, I believe “The Ain’t Going Out Like That” school should be the one we feel a film falls into least. A desired abandonment, as nihilistic as it may sound, could be the preferred reaction to most disappointing late-franchise sequels. The cessation of installments ends the false hope, that no matter if we know better, that part of us always holds onto believing that an intangible piece of the first film’s magic will come along into the second, third, fourth and fifth. So perhaps rather than wanting it to be fixed perhaps a franchise we feel is broken should be left alone until it heals or dies.

61 Days of Halloween: Friday the 13th Part 6

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Friday the 13th Part 6

The deeper into a horror franchise you get the more your status as a die hard is tested. And while I will still testify that Friday the 13th stands second in the slasher trinity to Halloween, this film will likely solidify the fandom of many if the second film didn’t already.

While the auteur theory can sometimes backfire, meaning that having a writer/director is not always a good thing, this is a film that benefits from the concise vision that having one man in both of the most crucial positions on a motion picture.

The film begins without hesitation with a shocking, slightly startling musical strain. While the somewhat puzzling chronology, and odd trajectory of Tommy Jarvis’s character continues in this film; here he is suddenly hero and although there is reference to a mental facility, though he is no longer psychotic, which is a blank not filled in.

Regardless of that this film does many things that make it work. The first being that it addresses the unlikeliness that Jason is truly dead, and it has Tommy wanting to exhume the corpse and burn the body. If you can get past the Frankenstein-like resurrection, which I eventually did, you’ll enjoy this film a great deal.

There are many reasons why: Firstly, Tommy is recast, as long as there liberties being taken with chronology; why not? And it’s for the better. Second, this film has its sense of humor in the right place. For example, the gag about “some folks have a strange idea of entertainment,” with the lens being nearly spiked and someone referring to having seen enough horror movies to know they’re in trouble.

The list continues: the reference to Part 4, for backstory purposes, is audio not visual, so the reflexivity is strongest in jokes not in the narrative itself. The necessary annoying bit players are killed quickly, with impeccable timing and great comedic value.

Also, by having the Sheriff of the newly renamed Forest Green act as an alternate antagonist we can fully support Tommy and not feel quite so crass in taking some kind of perverse enjoyment in Jason’s successes, as it’s the sheriff’s fault his rampage has begun.

Perhaps the most effective part of the film is that the campers at the lake are young kids most no older than twelve, making them much more innocent than Jason’s usual potential victims who are fornicating eighteen-year-olds.

While the ending predictably enough opens the door for Part 7 at the very least they didn’t make the odds of survival or re-animation seemingly insurmountable like they did last time. Visually, narratively and structurally this is a much more accomplished piece of filmmaking than most of the other installments and is a good deal more enjoyable than many of the intervening titles since Jason’s introduction as villain.

61 Days of Halloween: Friday the 13th Part III

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Friday the 13th, Part III

One thing that is typically an interesting feature of the Friday the 13th series, at least in the early going, is that there is an attempt to keep some semblance of continuity. Images from past films will typically be spliced in at the beginning to remind viewers where we’ve been. This film shows more than the last but it is needed.
 
However, the one chance at clarification that exists isn’t taken. It glosses over the escape from the last film. This one starts with a typical band of teenagers on their way to the country all of whom are stoners, one of whom is pregnant.

There are some decent touches early on like a cop car with lights on that is not chasing them. Sadly, this film decides it needs a replacement lunatic doom-sayer even though that character was killed off in the last film, and absence of said character, makes the teens more unwitting victims. Unfortunately, the pranks and fake scares gone awry multiply in this edition.

Since the film was originally exhibited in 3D, it becomes painfully obvious that things were shot for that effect. A tremendous amount of the story is taken up with the rivalry by happenstance that occurs with a local gang of thugs. It does influence the end of the film but it takes up way too much screen time, becomes too much of a distraction and, in the end, it’s annoying. The one big positive is that it gives Jason kills you can unabashedly root for.

Another thing that gets in the way and in the end serves only one purpose is the character of Shelly (Larry Zerner). This character has the annoying habit of trying to freak out his fellow soon-to-be-victims which makes for a rather aggravating experience when you rarely get a real scare on the heels of a bogus one. The one purpose of his being annoying serves is that it sets up the most memorable kill in the movie as one of the girls thinks its still him when it is, in fact, Jason. The confusion is, of course, caused because Shelly was wearing a hockey mask which Jason steals and there you have that tidbit.

While the building of Jason’s character continues which is an interesting thing to see there are too many encumbrances that make this film nowhere near as enjoyable as the first two. While there is one sequence where a girl is running around screaming and amazingly you actually feel her fear, which is rare but too many of the characters are disposable and you don’t feel their loss and want it to an extent. For the first time in the series, some of the kills are very weak which, when you’ve been made to wait, is a very bad thing indeed. Some of the make-up work is also not passable.

Lastly, at the end Jason’s body is left alone there’s no paramedic or cop wheeling it off, forget the fact that in the story he has survived miraculously before, it’s a body why are you just leaving it around? It was a film that wasn’t far off from working, which is unfortunate.

61 Days of Halloween: The Final Destination

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Final Destination

This is a film that is well-intentioned and has enough going for it that it nearly crosses the threshold making it a good film but it ultimately misses the mark. This, the 4th installment of the series, brings in an entirely new cast. There are spoilers herein.

One crucial mistake the film makes is to have two extensive vision sequences one that we only know is a vision when it’s done, which makes you wonder if the second was added so it would clock in at 82 minutes.
One great thing that this film does was that it spent a minimum amount of time in doubting both the visions and the concept of death’s path. As patrons of horror films and fans of this series we will accept both these concepts at face value and we don’t need to spend too much time on it.

Its failings are few but serious. Across the board the acting is pretty poor. The only performances of note both belong to characters who died too early: Nick Zano, as the crude cynical friend was quite funny, and Mykelti Williamson, one of the most under-utilized and anonymous Oscar winners ever isn’t great but good enough to make you wonder where he’s been.

Despite there being a decent string of kills there are some that are repetitive (bus) and just ineffective like the final kill which degenerates to humor instead of inducing it as it goes into closing credits. Again this series is predicated on anticipation of death and multiple possibilities to achieve it – so the sudden shock and uninventive don’t fly.

Ultimately, what’s lost is the psychological strain from the original that Devon Sawa demonstrated so well. It’s like a slasher film with an invisible killer and gratuitous sex, cursing and cheesy dialogue.

Also, the NASCAR scenario while offering flame, gore and a decent chuckle here and there isn’t as identifiable or as frightful a scenario as they’ve created. Perhaps the sequel which will follow after its 2nd consecutive box-office triumph will get back to grassroots (It didn’t).

The second extended vision sequence leads to the protagonist saving the day but it’s only for the time being and then the death at the close is unintentionally comedic and an anticlimax.

It’s a film unlike the last in the series that had the potential to be good but squandered it.

5/10

Home Alone Again, Naturally

Christian Martyn strikes the classic pose (Christian Martyn Facebook Fan page)

I like to when possible post an update on a prior story. It seems nearly impossible in this day and age to make a speculative list because anything is fair game from the inspired to the ridiculous. Even when joking the sensitive movie fan has to be careful because every thing is possible.

I say all that as a brief introduction to this factoid: a while back I did a list of franchises which could use a reboot. On this list I included the Home Alone series. It was included mainly for two reasons: one, it was largely conceptual to begin with once the McAllister family was no longer in the mix and two, because the third installment proved rather enjoyable.

A while back I heard randomly on Twitter that there was a casting announcement out for Home Alone 5 and much to my surprise it started filming soon thereafter. So yes, it’s on its way and that one can come off the list.

What’s good to hear is that there seem to be some good names attached Peter Hewitt directing (Thunderpants, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) and very importantly in the cast the underrated and underutilized Debi Mazar and as the kids who are alone there is Christian Martyn a talented and affable actor I first saw in Snowmen and Jodelle Ferland whose had brilliant turns in Case 39 and on the Hub Network’s The Haunting Hour.

Now with the element of having two kids stuck and the subtitle Alone in the Dark this installment seems like it’ll add a few more wrinkles to the equation but come closer to the its original roots than part 4 did. This film is slated to air on TV in December of this year. This post will be updated if and when developments occur.

10 Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy: 6. The Perils and Merits of Series

Vista Library

This series of articles is designed to help you, the fan, try and divorce yourself from your attachment to source material and judge a film on its own merits and not in comparison to another work. These tips come from my own experience. I hope they are helpful.

The aforementioned tips are all well and good when you are the fan of a standalone piece in another medium and it is being adapted into a standalone, for the time being, film. Things get more complicated when your book or comic or what have you is part of a series. Any series will have its own arc and structure in its greater tale aside from just the structure of the single volume.

This is where you might have to breathe deep and learn some relaxation techniques. If an element, say Hermione’s quest to end the enslavement of House elves, is left out of one film it will be left out of each subsequent film until it becomes absolutely, positively crucial to the structuring of the story. So some of the subplots that enrich a book will invariably fall by the wayside, which is why comparing mediums is dangerous.

I don’t want a novel that reads like a screenplay. I want detail, inner monologue, I want it to be possible to take two pages to describe five seconds of a character’s life. Each medium has its strengths and to expect a film to be a pictographic facsimile of a book is unrealistic. Sticking to the Harry Potter theme The Deathly Hallows is 759 pages long. If those pages were screenplay pages you’d be looking at a 12 and 1/2 hour movie. So even with two films telling the tale of one book you’re looking at roughly 40% of the material in the book covered.

So it’s a fact of life that the movie by necessity can and will leave things out and change things.

Conversely, you need to look at the film within the context of the series. You can compare it to past films but also bear in mind: how did it advance the story, did it up the stakes, is it leaving the table set nicely for a subsequent edition should there be one?

10 Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy: 5. Forewarned is Forearmed?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

This series of articles is designed to help you, the fan, try and divorce yourself from your attachment to source material and judge a film on its own merits and not in comparison to another work. These tips come from my own experience. I hope they are helpful.

This may be the most difficult of my guidelines in which to practice what you preach but it is completely possible. Basically, what this means is that if you find yourself to forming prejudicial opinions when hearing news tidbits about an upcoming films try and avoid them. Granted this is becoming increasingly difficult in a wired world but it is possible.

For example, I wrote about the split in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films. Curiosity got the better of me and I looked into what they picked and thus opined on it. However, none of the headlines I saw gave it away had I not clicked the link I’d be none the wiser.

Now, of course, casting news is usually a giveaway. It’ll be in the headline that so-and-so was cast in a given role but what I’ve learned in those scenarios is that I have been surprised many times by such decisions so I no longer read too much into those.

This feeds into the blank slate argument but basically the less about the production you can manage to absorb and form an opinion on before you see the film the better off you will be.

Review- Underworld: Awakening

Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening (Screen Gems)

Going into this film in all sincerity I wanted the ceiling of its potential quality to be much higher than I expected it to be. To be fair I only saw the last installment prior to this so I came in dreading a similar experience and hoping for a better one. While I’ll concede it was a better film it wasn’t by very much at all.

The film starts immediately on the wrong foot with a tired recap that relies too heavily on voice-over and not enough on montage. Granted it is a storytelling crutch to introduce new viewers and/or refresh the memory of fans but even the Friday the 13th series, which practically invented the technique, was more visual and inspired than this attempt at backtracking.

The tonality of this film is, from the very first, off. When you combine the desaturated color palette with the icy, stiff performances and flat-lining storyline you’re in a situation that no stakes can raise. I do grant this film raises the stakes from the last chapter but everything is so rote and done with such little aplomb it has no impact whatsoever.

Essentially the problem that plagues this film is the same that plagued the last one: the conflict seems created to support the action sequences and the action does not seem to flow organically from the conflict. We are given the minimum information and development and expected to be fat and content from that as we watch yet another tiresome action sequence where we as an audience have little to no investment.

Upon looking at the cast list one can easily ask “What is Stephen Rea doing here?” Sadly, that question does not dissipate in my mind as the film progresses. It seems as if Rea wanted nothing to do with this film and that perception makes itself evident in every frame.

In technical terms the films fares slightly better than the narrative does. The 3D is serviceable but rarely exploited and hardly worthy of the upcharge incurred. The effects are decent in execution but in conceptual terms the same unfortunate choices are made and exacerbated like big, hairless, “werewolves” and so on.

The film like the prior installment overdoes gunplay and downplays chase and is always trying to be more action then horror and achieves neither. All it ends up being is an incredibly tedious exercise that minimally advances a muddled mythos.


4/10

5 Franchises That Should’ve Been

Some films that are made seem to be begging for more, in other incarnations of this topic people have tended to focus more on the tie-in and merchandising potential and less on story. In this list you will see five films I think were just begging to be continued, expanded upon and elaborated more greatly. What are some of your favorites?

5. The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy

Mark McKinney and Dave Foley in Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (Paramount)

Why this film received such a cold shoulder and is largely overlooked is beyond me. The Kids in the Hall probably could’ve made a slew of films with a colon and their troupe’s effort following it in the title. They could’ve become the 90s incarnation of Monty Python. This film is hugely overlooked and vastly underrated. The franchise here is not the Brain Candy concept but rather the troupe’s brand of comedy transposed onto the big screen. Perhaps in the economically affluent, blasé, Generation X 90s a droll, snide stab at pharmaceutical companies and anti-depressants was not the way to go but it is hilarious. If you haven’t yet checked out their one and only feature length film to date please do. They still do shows and have appearances in Canada and each member does individual projects but perhaps the harsher times will reawaken the need for KITH as a unit.

4. Explorers

River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke and Bobby Fite in Explorers (Paramount)

While many do like it and it’s fine by me but not great, Explorers seems like the kind of film that would be better after a second installment when characters are already established and you can go deeper. Kids who design and build their own space craft and use it to travel to outer space; if this concept was developed today it’s an absolute certainty that it would be intended to be a series. Keep in mind that the original starred both Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix before they really hit it big with any project so it could definitely been continued as a star-vehicle and could be one anew. It’s just a wonder they haven’t tried again…yet.

3. Flight of the Navigator

Joey Cramer in Flight of the Navigator (Disney)

Again I think era might’ve had something to do with this concept not being followed up. If Disney was making Flight of the Navigator today and made a cent of profit it certainly would become a series. I just think here the film opens up a whole can of worms that could be revisited, not that it necessarily should. In the film David played by Joey Cramer travels through space and thus time and comes back still looking twelve eight years later. There are just so many possibilities other complications this could cause and other planets to visit. This film may soon be off the list as a remake is in development and has been for some time.

2. Stephen King Projects

Colm Feore in Storm of the Century (Walt Disney Television)

OK, allow me to explain this selection. It’s basically a tie because one would be a film and the other could be a film following a mini-series and the mini-series, lost art form as that is, is kind of in a no man’s land in terms of film.

The first King property I’m surprised never turned into a series was Silver Bullet. It is without question one of the most accurate and best interpretations of a King book put on screen. Due in no small part to the fact that King wrote the script himself. It’s like Cycle of the Werewolf was plastered on celluloid. It’s great and considering some of the other werewolf films that were popular in the 80s it’s even more surprising. The possibility of a follow up to that tale is definitely a tantalizing idea to think about but King doesn’t have it on his docket.

The second would be a sequel of some kind to Storm of the Century, King’s first mini-series. Without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen it the ending is not open but rife with possibilities and considering that Linoge is one of his best villains, on par with Randal Flagg, and to see power transition from him to his protégé would be something.

1. The House by the Cemetery

Silvia Collatina in The House by the Cemetery (Anchor Bay)

One of Lucio Fulci’s best works and one that screamed to be continued more so than any of the Zombie films which are terribly overrated. The House by the Cemetery features a great villain a cruel, twisted doctor who is undead, practically immortal and of course can’t really be defeated not that much resistance has been put up against him. The ending of the film is open and you really are left to wonder what happens with Bob next. If an American had made it with better known actors it likely would’ve been a series one that would’ve gotten ridiculously long after a time but might’ve been enjoyable still reminiscent of the original Halloween cycle.